ACOPAN TEPUI

Posted on: September 1, 2003


Alfredo Rangel on the first ascent of Pizza, Chocolate y Cerveza (VI 5.12b R, 600m) on Venezuela's Acopan Tepui. Note pipes, which proved instrumental during stressful moments on the climb. [Photo] Arran Collection

In 2002, Jose Pereyra, Tim O'Neill, four Venezuelan climbers, John Arran and I put up a 2,000-foot 5.13b route on the southeast face of Cerro Auatana Tepui. This year, John, nicknamed "La Maquina" (the machine) by the Venezuelans, was particularly keen for another adventure. But sadly this time there would be no Jose Pereyra around to share the arduous but fulfilling tepui experience, which he had summed up perfectly last year as "a different kind of gnarly."

Accompanied by local Venezuelan climber Alfredo Rangel, we landed our light aircraft on a patch of grassland near the indigenous village of Yunek Ken in the Gran Sabana—a destination remote enough to escape the attention of even the Lonely Planet guide. Acopan's elegant, 300-million-year-old, bulging, orange-and-gray walls gave the appearance of a fortress towering over the village; our line looked like an awesome proposition. Aided by the machete-wielding village chief, Leonardo, we broke trail to the base in two days.

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The fun began Tarzan-style as we monkeyed up two-inch-thick vines for thirty-five meters. Four days of continuously surprising, bold face climbing and steep cracks led to a twelve-meter roof we hadn't seen from the ground. Alfredo had brought along a small collection of lightweight Bolivian and Peruvian instruments; along with his rap songs, they proved invaluable in calming stressful moments such as this.

A shocking reverse mantel and sloping hand traverse, with legs dangling 400 meters above nothing, fortuitously led to more amenable ground. To add to our uncertainty, the eerie sound of howling monkeys wafted up from the gradually receding forest floor, indicating rain was imminent. Good timing, I thought: it was almost dark, there was no ledge in sight, we had just enough food and water to make the top, and we were about to emerge from beneath the shelter of the roof onto the exposed and unprotected open face.

When we made it to where the angle finally eased, I felt sure we'd cracked it, but we hadn't allowed for the vegetation. At one stage John had to dyno for a bush on the lip of a roof with no idea whether it would hold his weight.

—Anne Arran, Sheffield, United Kingdom

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